I was in China. And I was really missing America and so I started listening to Hamilton.
- school teacher in line for Hamilton lottery ticket drawing
Hamilton: An American Musical tells the story of the establishment of the United State through Alexander Hamilton, a founding father and the first secretary-treasurer.
Like many Americans today, Hamilton wasn’t born in the US. In the musical, he concurs with his frenchmen friend, Marquis de Lafayette, that “immigrants get the job done”, a line always followed by a very loud audience applause.
And undeniably in the play, immigrants do get the job done. Lafayette leads men into battle during the Revolutionary War. And Hamilton becomes Washington’s right hand man ie speech writer, data analyst, and secretary. Both men were recruited by Washington, who took a chance on them and believed each could do it, thus advertently setting up America to be the land of opportunity.
And the theme of opportunity presents itself throughout the play. One of the best demonstrations is looking at the original cast where you’ll see that virtually every actress and actor in the play was unknown, and, now, Hamilton has made them Broadway legends. And this cast is not your typical caucasian crew: most members are actually black. This is pretty remarkable since historically, blacks have only been cast as servants or slaves or vagabonds (read this) and, in Hamilton, the cast play revolutionaries, about the furthest you can get from subservient. Furthermore these actors did a stupendous job. At the Tony awards (the equivalent of the Oscars for musicals), 3/4 of the best acting awards went to members in Hamilton and, for the first time, 4/4 of the best acting awards went to African Americans (Hamilton is the reason why black people sweeped the best acting category for the first time ever).
However, the awesome diversity ironically creates a high demand for tickets and so the only people who can afford to go are old, white, middle class people. Perhaps to combat this, Lin Manual Miranda, the composer and star of Hamilton and general badass, created, Ham4Ham, a lottery that happens every day for front row tickets to the show, where winning means you pay a ham, 10 bucks, to see Hamilton. Thousands enter their name so you’re chances aren’t great but anyone has the opportunity to win.
It’s also interesting to note that although the cast is diverse, the women and men whose lives are portrayed in the musical were all white. Which begs the question of why the musical was cast dissimilarly to the historical time period it’s about. Partly I think it’s because old white men in white wigs aren’t relatable. Also, it’s because many of the best hip hop artists are not white. And mostly it’s because the cast symbolize how different types of people brought together the nation we have and, in addition, parallel how the marginalized communities of gays, women, latinos, and blacks are all fighting for another revolution today.
I’m going to shift gears a bit now to talk about the music. The music is brilliant and also happens to be mostly hip hop. In our generation, hip hop is ubiquitous with voicing frustration and change and thus makes sense for a play about revolution. Miranda in interviews often draws a more simple connection between Hamilton and rap artists, noting that both tend to be geniuses with words who’ve written themselves out of poverty and into a new identity…and both also don’t seem to know when to stop writing and get into trouble because of it.
The music isn’t just hip hop however. The are also a couple more traditional broadway songs like The Room Where It Happens, so the audience is reminded that this is a musical. Most hilariously, Miranda threw in 3 romantic pop songs for King George, who laments his broken relationship with the United States, at what point telling the US:
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love! Ladadadaaaaa…
But while King George has quite of few zingers, the beauty of the lyrics lie in some of the less hilarious songs: ones about life, loss, ambition, and failure. One of my favorite lines is sung by Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s murderer:
Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it just takes and it takes and it takes and it takes.
Miranda often mentions in interviews not having a lot of money growing up to go to Broadways shows but being invigorated by listening to albums of Broadway shows like The Man of La Mancha. I think that’s maybe why the entire album is free on youtube and every sound in the musical is recorded on the album. Anyone can listen to the plot unravel with their eyes closed and head bobbing and legs jiving.